Rise Stevens: Mezzo-soprano with the Met for two decades

 

Rise Stevens, who died on 20 March at the age of 99, was a mezzo-soprano who sang with the Metropolitan Opera for more than 20 years during the 1940s and 1950s. She began singing with the Met in 1938; among her greatest roles was the title character in Carmen, which she sang for 124 performances.

She turned down an early chance to sing at the Met, feeling she needed more study in Europe. She also turned her back on Hollywood in the 1940s after roles in two hit films because she wanted to devote herself to opera. In 1961, she retired from performing, saying she wanted to bow out while she still had a great voice. "It always bothered me, these great singers when I heard them again and again, remembering how magnificent they sounded once and no more," she said.

She remained active as an administrator of a touring opera company and as an educator, helping to foster the growth of opera across the US.

Her earthy portrayal of Carmen brought her particular acclaim in the early 1950s, spotlighting her acting as well as her singing. She recalled: "I had to learn to move my body and feel like this Spanish woman."

She helped make history in 1952 when Carmen was seen coast to coast, telecast from the Met. It was believed to be the largest audience ever to see a single opera performance.

Among her other celebrated roles were Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier", Orfeo in Orfeo ed Euridice, Orlovsky in Die Fledermaus, Cherubino and Dalila in Samson et Dalila. Her brief Hollywood career began in 1941 opposite Nelson Eddy in The Chocolate Soldier –"He really could have had an operatic career, but he just made too much money, too soft and too easy," she recalled. That film's success led to a role in the 1944 Bing Crosby hit Going My Way. "I probably would never have reached that vast public had I not done films," she said. "At least, I won a lot of people over to opera."

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